Places Behind the Pink
Breast Cancer Support, Care, and Awareness
Amberlie Hoydic, a Smilow nurse, chats with survivor Galina Babkin, Donna Twist, executive director of the Norma Pfriem Breast Center and VP of development of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation and Smilow Cancer Hospital, and patient Theresa Bulan.
Photo by Stan Godlewski
››“You have breast cancer” are devastating words to hear. I know this, as I was diagnosed with the disease on September 30, 2015—the day before the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Suddenly, Fairfield was cast in a rosy glow for a full month, decorated with pink ribbons, pink balloons, and pink light bulbs blazing in the lanterns lining the streets downtown. What I didn’t realize then is something I appreciate now—this influx of pink is critical to encourage women to get mammograms. And it also serves as a reminder of the amazing local resources available to help diagnosed women and their families as they navigate through this challenging diagnosis—not just in October, but the rest of the year as well.
You may have heard about the Norma Pfriem Breast Center, but aren’t sure what they do. I was like that until I personally sought them out. It was founded in 1999 at Bridgeport Hospital. Today, the center has two additional locations, one on Beach Road in Fairfield and the other in the Park Avenue Medical Center in Trumbull. Named after Southport philanthropist Norma Pfriem, the Center’s mission, according to executive director Donna Twist, Ph.D., is “to serve all patients with breast cancer regardless of their ability to pay with compassion, care, and top medical expertise.”
Fully accredited and with national commendations, the Pfriem Center assists women with the management of their medical care relating to their illness, including facilitating enrollment in clinical trials, and coordinating treatment with the neighboring Smilow Cancer Center. The center also offers valuable wellness resources to those diagnosed, such as yoga, acupuncture, Pilates, counseling and support groupsl.
Perhaps most significant, the center provides financial support to breast cancer patients for basic needs, such as help paying their mortgage or utilities, should they require that kind of aid as they go through their treatment.
The Pfriem Center “runs completely off of philanthropy from the community,” says Twist, citing several major fundraisers that take place during the year, including the Rose of Hope luncheon. “But since we ask so much of the community, we also want to give back,” she continues. The Pfreim Center presents educational programs in Fairfield Public School health classes in grades seven through twelve, and offers a similar program in Bridgeport’s public schools. They also host wellness events in their locations for the community throughout the year, free of charge.
“Never ever in my 71 years have I met such genuine support and care,” says Pfriem Center patient Galina Babkin. “They know everything about what cancer does to you, so they provide you with any possible service to make your experience less stressful. Norma Pfriem is like home, the place you want to be.”
Women dealing with metastatic breast cancer, or cancer that has spread beyond the breast, can tap into another Fairfield-based foundation—The Cancer Couch—for inspiration and guidance.
A volunteer-run and privately-funded foundation, website, and blog, The Cancer Couch was established in 2016 by Southporter Rebecca Timlin-Scalera, Ph.D. after she was blindsided by a stage-four breast-cancer diagnosis, also in September 2015. Ultimately re-staged to 3C after further testing, Timlin-Scalera channeled her energy into this new foundation solely focused on metastatic breast cancer. She named it The Cancer Couch as a nod to her profession as a neuropsychologist. “I thought breast cancer was curable,” says Timlin-Scalera. “What about all of those survivors and pink ribbons? Well, that’s only part of the story, and to make change, we need to talk about the other side of breast cancer—the side that is not filled with hope or survivor walks—yet.”
The Cancer Couch missions are simple—to make metastatic breast cancer a chronic, manageable disease in our lifetime. Funds raised go directly to cutting-edge metastatic breast cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
All of this is accomplished through community fundraisers like their signature “The Cancer Beat” concert in the fall and the last day of school “Scoops Challenge” ice cream event. In the first six months, The Cancer Couch raised $500,000.